The Ever-Changing Home
Q&A With Byggmeister Architect Anita Rogers
First we upsize and then we downsize. Renovations are often undertaken to suit a growing family, but those needs change before we know it. So, what is the best approach to updating a house for today with an eye toward tomorrow? Byggmeister architect Anita Rogers doesn't use a crystal ball when helping clients see the future, but she may use a dining set.
What kinds of key changes are happening in today's homes? When people decide to renovate, they may not yet have all the children they plan to have, but they can still tell that they are dealing with a house that isn't going to work for them as their family expands. Truthfully, the house probably didn't really work for them in the first place.
Older homes in this region rarely have mudrooms or kitchens that accommodate the entire family and the bathrooms are small. Work is taking place more and more in the home, so home office space is often a necessity.
The long-term needs aren't that different from today's needs, so we have to guide our clients in how to get to the heart of what features are going to make the home functional and anticipate things like the fact that their little kids are going to turn into big kids.
Can you actually design for transitions such as kids growing up? When my boys were two, five and seven, I thought I'd always have Big Wheels in the kitchen and I was thinking about keeping them out of the way. Now that they are grown, I think they should be in the kitchen helping me. Flexibility is key, so you want a kitchen that can have people using it at the same time. And, although most parents want their home to be the neighborhood hangout spot you have to anticipate that the great room won't be the place the kids want to be when they are older. They are going to prefer a finished basement room or a den where they can be separate from the adults. Those types of rooms always have uses after the kids are gone.
What are the most common design mistakes people make? Accepting that the house can't be all things to all people at every moment is important. There will be compromises, and those need to be prioritized. People often don't anticipate that when you open up the interior of the house, you lose some acoustical privacy. So, though you may gain the ability for everyone to come together at certain times of day, you may have to accept that the kids' cartoons will annoy you sometimes when you want quiet. Not incorporating furniture into the plan during design is another mistake. You need to see if the spaces are going to work for what you have or plan to have. How large a dining room table do you need? Where will that hutch go? Can you accommodate everyone in the dining room at holiday time? Maybe the room needs to be bigger or the doorway expanded so the table can be inched in that direction.
Is there an ideal house size? You don't want to build a house that is too big because, before you know it, you are empty nesters. It's fun to take a house that isn't working and make those changes — open up the kitchen, add a mudroom — that make it a better house. If it works for you now it will likely work for you later and it will also work for others because our lives aren't that different from each other's. A good family house is a good family house. People think volume solves problems, but if things are well designed, it doesn't need to be so big.
Big kitchens are an enduring trend though, right? Actually, I think clients are learning that it doesn't have to be so big to be efficient. A lot has happened in how families use the kitchen, but with thoughtful design you can nearly always really improve the kitchen within the existing space. Cabinets have adjustable elements and new designs make good use of corners. That's where an architect is important because creating a good working kitchen is a skill set. There are a lot of little details and options.
Are mudrooms a must have? Not necessarily. If you're designing from scratch, do you really need a front door and a back door? How about one entryway with a big closet so you can capture things, like a designated place for mail instead of having things spread between the front door and the back? If you have children, you would enjoy a mudroom with cubbies for all of them, but it's inevitable that it will be less used when they move out. The compromise might be to have cubbies as part of a walk-in closet where you can remove the dividers later.
What about a bedroom plan? Again, it comes down to furniture, really. Can your child sleep in a twin bed or do you want to fit a queen bed? Look at the amount of space and the budget. What needs to be accommodated in each room: bed, desk, bureau? And then there's closet space. Will a four-foot closet be enough? This is the conversation you end up having.
What are the main elements to consider if you want to create a "forever house?" Can you get in and out of the house easily as you age? Is there a full bath on the first floor? You want to be able to live in it without having to use stairs and have a downstairs bath that's big enough for assistance in the bath. Attach that bath to the den so it could become a bedroom later on and it can accommodate elderly parents who come to visit. If you think through these things as you make changes to the home, then you have a house that anticipates a family's whole lifecycle.
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